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Repeat Shocker at Wimbledon: Rafael Nadal Out at Hands of World No. 135 Steve Darcis in Straight Sets

Rafael Nadal's first ever first round loss at a Major was Monday at Wimbledon

(June 24, 2013) The impossible has happened again at Wimbledon.

After a surprising exit at the hands of Lukas Rosol at last year’s Wimbledon Championships in the second round, world No. 5 Rafael Nadal was dealt another heavy blow on the grass. But this time, in a round earlier and by an opponent ranked even lower.

Monday’s 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 loss to Steve Darcis marks the first time ever that Nadal has lost in the first round of a Major after going 34-0. His opponent hit 53 winners compared to Nadal’s 32, and Darcis hit an astounding 13 aces for his 5’10” frame.

Given his worrisome loss last year, Nadal admitted during his pre-tournament press conference on Saturday that he shouldn’t have played Wimbledon last year.

“Last year I played here because is a tournament that I love, but I was not ready to play here … After Roland Garros I feel that my knee was not there anymore … [T]hat experience for me last year was too much. I suffer too much.”

Though more optimistic coming into Wimbledon this year and playing healthier, on Saturday, Nadal commented that he did not underestimate his first round opponent or how close matches on grass can be.

“[Darcis] is a complete player. I have to play well. I have to play very competitive from the beginning … [O]n this surface, on grass, all the matches are close. Matches can be decided for a few balls. So if you are not hundred percent focused and you’re not at your hundred percent of energy and playing well, you are in big trouble.”

And that’s exactly what happened. With the first set being decided by mere points as it went unexpectedly to a tiebreak, Nadal looked to be in a bit of trouble. And despite having the opportunity to serve out the second set at 6-5, Nadal again faltered and played a poor tiebreak, to go down two sets.

As many expected Nadal to finally wake up and take the match in five sets, he was quickly broken in the opening of the third set and began to look physically and mentally drained. Then, down 5-3 in the third, the camera panned to his uncle and coach Toni Nadal, who himself gave a defeatist smile as he watched on, already grasping the inevitable outcome.

Gone was Nadal’s firepower and energy, and after his loss, the deflated Spaniard addressed the press simply saying, “I didn’t find my rhythm.”

After the big focus on Nadal’s knee during his injury layoff, the Spaniard was questioned several times about the influence his knee played in his defeat. A dumbfounded Nadal finally let out a laugh:

“I think you are joking. I answered this question three or four times already, that I don’t want to talk about my knee this afternoon. The only thing I can say today is to congratulate Steve Darcis, he played a fantastic match. And everything that I will say today about my knee is an excuse. And I don’t like to [make] any excuse when I lose a match like I lost today.”

Nadal again seemed agitated when asked to compare this loss to his loss against Rosol last year. He repeated that he didn’t find any similarities.

Though a shocking loss by most standards, the truth it that Nadal has played a very heavy schedule after coming back from injury and played no tune-up event on grass prior to Wimbledon. He arrived last Tuesday after taking a few days off after Roland Garros.

So the question begs to be asked: should Nadal have adjusted his schedule and taken it lighter in the spring? With a long contemplative pause, Nadal addressed this idea:

“I cannot say when I [make my schedule] if it was wrong or it was positive. Six hours ago, it was a perfect calendar. Now it’s a very negative calendar.”

And, as Nadal states, “that’s sports” for you. Anything can happen. What seemed impossible just hours ago has transpired and left fans with more questions than answers about Nadal’s status, schedule and knee.

How to Attack Rafael Nadal on the Wimbledon Grass

Rafael Nadal's footwork and shoes on the grass of Wimbledon this week

(June 21, 2013) Rafael Nadal’s dominance of the French Open has been absolutely remarkable. No other player in the history of tennis has so utterly conquered such a prestigious event year after year. Winning his eighth title at Roland Garros just a few short weeks ago, Nadal is the only player in the history of men’s tennis to win eight titles at single grand slam. His supremacy, even without the title, has been superior to the control both Roger Federer and Pete Sampras had over Wimbledon during their primes.

And as the tennis world closes in on Wimbledon, Nadal is looking to extend his clay court triumphs to the revered lawns of the All England Club. Nadal is seeded fifth in the tournament which undoubtedly has been the impetus for much debate over the seeding process. In addition, this specific seeding arrangement has put the Spaniard on a quarterfinal collision course with Federer, and possibly Andy Murray in the semifinals.

With this all said, how can the rest of the tennis world stifle the Spanish locomotive as he powers his way into Wimbledon? Let’s take a look at some strategies and tactics that can be used to attack Nadal as he pursues a third Wimbledon crown.

Diminish the margins quickly with an offensively-geared mindset - As Daniel Brands demonstrated in the first round of the French Open, one of the simplest strategies to integrate against Nadal is to endlessly take the initiative. Brands entered the match with a definitive intention which was to bludgeon each ball with as much pace as possible hoping to deny Nadal any opportunity of meeting his racket to the ball. This game plan is definitely simple enough in theory but it’s actually much harder to actualize on clay against Nadal. On grass, Nadal is less capable of engaging his opponents into marathon rallies during which he slowly eats away his opposition’s court position, fitness, and hope. Grass reduces the height at which the ball is being played and increases the speed by which the ball moves through the court. This combination facilitates more aggressive play and better rewards players who take more risks, an integral aspect of taking down Nadal.

Slice with caution - One feature of grass courts is that the ball tends to bounce low and skid thus making underspin shots infinitely more effective. Nadal’s forehand grips approaches a full-western which makes low balls harder to play. Those with more extreme forehand grips are more naturally suited to play higher reaching balls as the natural contact point is around chest level. Players with full western grips have a harder time getting under and swinging up the back of the ball, an abundantly necessary aspect of accelerating and obtaining power with such an extreme grip. This strategy is definitely a potent one to use against Nadal but is one that needs to be used with caution. If not executed with the appropriate pace and depth, the underspin backhand is a shot that Nadal is capable of running around and crushing. A weak slice backhand which can be equated to a flailing chip return by Federer is exactly the type of shot Nadal feasts on.

Serve variation - One of the main strategies used by the last three players (Federer, Djokovic, Rosol) to defeat Nadal at Wimbledon was to mix up their serve placement. Forcing Nadal to constantly adapt and adjust on the return is critical. Firstly, it keeps him off balance and consistently guessing. Secondly, Nadal’s forehand and backhand grips are far apart, so if Nadal is guessing backhand and the serve is targeted to his forehand, he’s not going to be able to switch his grip in time. As a result, he is likely going to be forced to chip the return back into play which more often than not will put him on the defensive.

Serve and Volley - There are many commentators and writers alike who have touted this play as old-fashioned and obsolete but I firmly believe that it can work. If Nadal retreats behind the baseline, players like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Roger Federer who possess versatile all-court games can use Nadal’s defensive return position as a catalyst to their offensive aggression. Again, caution must be used with the serve and volley tactic because Nadal is very apt at placing the ball at the feet of his opponents. In addition, serving and volleying on second serves is ill-advised because Nadal will move closer to the baseline to return and he will be able to take larger cuts on typically weaker serves.

Video and Photos: Protestor with Flare Runs Onto Court During French Open Men’s Final

Protestors at French Open men's final between Nadal and Ferrer

(June 9, 2013) Fans at Philippe Chatrier Court had some unexpected and unwelcomed protectors inside the stadium during the men’s final between Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer on Sunday.

All was going according to plan for Nadal to capture his eighth Roland Garros title. Earlier in the second set, however, rambunctious protestors, in favor of children’s rights, in the last row of the stadium had to be escorted out by security.

Then at 6-3, 5-1 with Nadal ready to serve, a shirtless and masked protestor with the words “KIDS RIGHT” written across his chest, ran onto Nadal’s side of the court, lighting a red flare. Nadal’s instincts kicked in and he started to run toward the exit, but seemingly stopped when realizing the protestor had been contained.

Security tackled the man and threw him off the court as another security personnel guarded Nadal. The man was taken off the court while security worked on extinguishing the flame in the corridor.

In the video below, you can also see security escort another shirtless man just as the incident occurred.

It not only shoot up the fans, but also Nadal as he lost serve the next game, but was able to break back and take the second set 6-2.

In his interview with John McEnroe, Nadal gave his thought when asked about the on-court protestor.

“Well, I felt a little bit scared in the first moment,” said Nadal. “These kinds of things are impossible to predict. When these kinds of things happen, we are very lucky that we have good security around. They managed very well to stop the situation.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLt2-uZCQUg

On nearby Suzanne Lenglen court, the protesting continued.

Roland Garros Men’s Final Preview: Rafael Nadal Going for Eight Over David Ferrer

Can David Ferrer push Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros final?

(June 8, 2013) Ever since coming back from his injury layoff, it seems all that Rafael Nadal can do is chase records, whether consciously or not, and this year’s Roland Garros is no different. The Spaniard is looking for not only his eight Roland Garros title, but also to become the first man in history to win eight titles at the same Slam event. Nadal now holds a 58-1 record at Roland Garros, but Ferrer is the only player to not have dropped a set en route to the final this year.

The two have already played each other three times this year, with two of those matches going the distance, so clearly Ferrer is capable of pushing Nadal. But can he do it in a best-of-five? Tennis Grandstand writers Chris Skelton and Nick Nemeroff, and guest contributor Josh Meiseles weigh in and give their predictions.

Josh Meiseles (Blog, The Sixth Set; @TheSixthSet): I would be hard-pressed to remember the last time a player was so ruthlessly dominant throughout a Grand Slam, yet was as massive an underdog entering the final as Ferrer will be when he duels with Nadal on Sunday.

In Nadal, the elder Spaniard not only faces a seven-time French Open champion, he goes up against someone who has maintained a firm stranglehold on their rivalry for the past decade. The world number four’s 19-4 head-to-head edge is highly indicative of Ferrer’s perpetual mental block against him and lack of confidence. Additionally, while his combined 42 breaks of serve and 18-0 sets-won record this fortnight are Nadalian numbers at Roland Garros, they should largely be considered a product of his rather benign draw. That said, it would require a gargantuan effort from the elder Spaniard to suddenly discover the fortitude to outlast Nadal in five sets, in the king of clay’s playground and with the additional pressure of this being his maiden Grand Slam final.

The only chance Ferrer has to make this competitive is if the weather forecast does hold true and it rains before the match, meaning the clay is dampened and Nadal’s forehand loses much of its bite. Even then, it would be foolish to pick against him. Nadal claims his eighth Roland Garros title after four sets.

Winner: Rafael Nadal, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1

Chris Skelton (@ChrisSkelton87): David Ferrer must feel like laughing and crying at the same time. At the age of 31, he reached the first major final of his career just months after claiming his first Masters 1000 title. This milestone represents a fitting climax to his late-career surge over the last eighteen months and a well-deserved opportunity. On Sunday, though, Ferrer faces a man who has beaten him 16 straight times on clay in fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal, also a man who never has lost a final at Roland Garros and won the tournament a record seven times. When they met in a 2012 semifinal at this tournament, Nadal allowed him just five games.

So there’s that. On the bright side, Ferrer has defeated Nadal at two majors before and took sets off him at their two previous clay meetings this season. He came within two points of a stunning upset over his countryman in Madrid, but he faded sharply late in both matches. Ferrer has not lost a set this tournament, but he has faced a much easier draw than the defending champion. While some men might suffer a hangover after defeating the world No. 1, Nadal has too much discipline to use his epic semifinal victory over Novak Djokovic as anything but a confidence boost.

The seven-time Roland Garros champion is simply a better player in every area than Ferrer, who will struggle to rise to the occasion of his first major final. Expect him to start slowly, make his move in the second set, and crumble soon after it fails.

Winner: Rafael Nadal, 6-1, 7-5, 6-2

Nick Nemeroff (@NNemeroff): The French Open final truly presents a battle between David and Goliath. David Ferrer could not have asked for a more unwelcoming opponent to greet him in his grand slam final debut. The only time Ferrer has conquered Rafael Nadal on clay came in their first ever meeting in 2004. Since then, Nadal has taken out Ferrer 17 straight times on his beloved red dirt.

In order for Ferrer to flip the script and pull off what would undoubtedly be one of the greatest upsets in tennis history, he’ll have to do a lot of things right to say the least. Throughout his career, Nadal has won 95 percent of the matches where he captured the opening set so it’s safe to say the opening frame of the match could very well be do or die for Ferrer.

If Ferrer wants any chance of winning the first set or any set for that matter, it will be paramount for him to dictate and stretch Nadal with his forehand, neutralize Nadal’s vicious topspin by taking a proactive stance on the baseline, take advantage of Nadal’s distant return position, and attack the King of Clay’s second serve. Ultimately, I think the increasingly warm conditions, Nadal’s overwhelming pattern of plays, and the magnitude of the moment will be too much for Ferrer to overcome in the end.

Prediction: Rafael Nadal, 7-6(5) 4-6 6-3 6-3

Rafael Nadal Defeats Novak Djokovic in a Roland Garros Semifinal for the Ages

Rafael Nadal defeats Novak Djokovic in a thriller

(June 7, 2013) It was a blockbuster Roland Garros semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic that many would agree was more fitting for a Slam final. After all, Nadal and Djokovic met in last year’s final and have been the two best players in the world on clay for several years now. But Nadal’s time missed on tour last year left things up to chance and the draw had other ideas.

In his post-match press conference, Nadal reflected on what this match meant to him: “It was a really emotional match. … These kinds of matches make the sport big. I lost a similar one in Australia. Today was for me. I’m happy at the way that I played, and more than happy at the way I fighted (sic) at the fifth set after losing a big chance in the fourth.

This was expected to be a highly-physical, hard-fought match and it did not disappoint. However, neither player was at his absolute best for long periods of time, and there were far more unforced errors from both players than many would have thought possible, 119 in total. It’s not completely fair to criticize the players for this though. Neither one played poorly; the wind was wreaking havoc on both players all day, affecting all aspects of their games.

That didn’t stop this match from being exciting though. Nadal broke midway through the first set and held from there to take it 6-4. At one point, Djokovic reached for his hamstring and looked a little uncomfortable, but it didn’t really seem to affect his movement. When Nadal broke in the second set, though, it looked like it was over.  Djokovic responded as only Djokovic can, taking the next 4 games to level the match at one set a piece.

Things looked like they were over in the third set as Djokovic was clearly hampered by a groin or hamstring injury of some sort. Nadal took the set 6-1 and it was only inevitable that the fourth set would go the same way. And when Nadal broke to go up, it looked like things were done for the Serb.

“I really tried to come back,” stated Djokovic in his press conference of losing the third set and nearly the fourth. “The third set wasn’t great at all. I just dropped physically, but I managed to come back and start playing really really well as the match was going on.”

Digging deep, though, Djokovic once again found a way to fight, twice getting back a break in the fourth set before finally taking it in a tiebreaker.

The fifth set was one for the ages and lasted a grueling 82 minutes. Both players fought each other and the wind, mixing incredible winners with incomprehensible errors. Djokovic broke in the opening game of the set but couldn’t hold all the way to the finish, getting broken back for 4-all. The level of tennis then picked up tremendously and we were treated to an epic half set. Ultimately, though, Djokovic blinked and couldn’t keep it together the fourth time serving for the match. Three errors and a mental collapse meant a break at love to end the match.

Djokovic gave credit to his opponent’s level of play and reign in Paris.

“I congratulate my opponent because he showed courage in the right moments and went for his shots,” stated the Serb. “And when he was a break down in the fifth, he made some incredible shots from the baseline. … That’s why he’s a champion, ruling Roland Garros for many years.”

It’s hard to be disappointed by a match that lasted over four-and-a-half hours with two of the best clay court players tennis has seen. It was their 35th time playing each other in their professional careers, and they each seem to know the other’s game inside and out. And the match had everything: wind, drama, tweeners, complaints for both players and, of course, immense tennis.

Nadal now must leave all this behind, recover and be ready to take on a compatriot has is all too familiar with, David Ferrer, and vie for his record eighth title at a single Slam on Sunday, while Djokovic will be ruing his missed chances and moving on to Wimbledon.

Roland Garros Day 11: Links Roundup with Sharapova, Djokovic, Tsonga and more

Victoria Azarenka reaches for a lob against Maria Kirilenko during Day 11 action.

Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.

Shot of the Day: Victoria Azarenka reached her first semifinal at Roland Garros by easily dispatching of Maria Kirilenko in the quarterfinals in just under two hours with a score of 7-6(3), 6-2.

Mats Wilander on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Annabel Croft sits down with Mats Wilander as the former world No. 1 analyzes and dissects Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s progression under Roger Rasheed. Mats dives into Tsonga’s more relaxed forehand, consistent backhand, and increased confidence and explosiveness on court.

Novak Djokovic confident but knows what lies ahead: In his press conference following his straight sets quarterfinal victory over German Tommy Haas, Novak Djokovic talked about the rarity and difficulty of facing players with one handed backhands, the slick and quick conditions of Suzanne Lenglen, how he feels about the current state of his game, and the challenge of playing Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.

“Now I have a big challenge in front of me. I’m ready for it.  I’m playing well. I know this is the biggest challenge for me at Roland Garros. No doubt about it.”

Maria Sharapova leaves the bagel store just in time: After an egregious, error-strewn opening frame which she lost 6-0 to Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova cleaned up her act to collect the final two sets 6-4 6-3. Sharapova’s victory sets up a blockbuster semifinal with Victoria Azarenka, with the winner likely facing Serena Williams in the finals on Saturday. Sports Illustrated reports that while “Jankovic won 27 points in the first set, 20 on unforced errors by Sharapova,” Maria still felt confident.

“I still felt like I was in the match. And I was,” Sharapova stated. This type of confidence and mental fortitude coming from Sharapova should surprise no one and is what may lead her to back to back Roland Garros titles.

Players on the receiving end of gamblers’ frustrations: After his opening round defeat at the hands of Frenchman Lucas Pouille, American Alex Kuznetsov, a slight favorite in the match, received, as Ben Rothenberg describes in his piece for Slate, “a tweet with an impolite rhetorical question.” Rothenberg goes on to describe how tennis players often bear the brunt of hateful and threatening messages on twitter following losses. These messages are often from gamblers because “in countries where online sports betting is rampant and legal, tennis is one of the most attractive sports to bet on.” Tim Smyczek talks about his experiences with gamblers over social media even citing incidents where he’s “gotten messages after Challenger doubles matches.”

Enjoy Svetlana Kuznetsova while you have the chance: I could try to put in to words what Svetlana Kuznetosva means to tennis fans, but it would it pale in comparison to how Lindsay Gibbs of The Changeover described the phenomenon that is Sveta. Here’s a taste of Lindsay’s take on Kuznetsova following her quarterfinal loss to Serena Williams:

“The truth is that the sky pattern on the clothes is fitting for the Russian–the sky is the limit for her, but she keeps that limit close to her …

She makes us all want to pull our hair out, but she also keeps us watching …

Because on days like today when the conclusion is foregone, when the ending seems inevitable, she reminds us that it’s not. She reminds us that there are players like her who can get under the skin of Serena Williams. She reminds us that there’s not just one right or one wrong way to do things. Occasionally the Sveta way works too.”

Rafael Nadal as focused as ever: Rafael Nadal has seven titles and a lone defeat at Roland Garros. Yet, David Cox of the New York Times designates Nadal’s practice etiquette as being “markedly different from any other player.”

“While Roger Federer likes to joke around, sometimes mimicking his partner’s service action, Nadal is deadly serious, his focus as unrelenting as he rehearses the drills he believes will make all the difference as he seeks his 12th career title in a grand slam event.”

Nadal’s amplified practice intensity should not be viewed as response or as an antidote to his lackluster form during the first week. Rather, it should be seen as Rafael Nadal being Rafael Nadal. He plays every point like it’s his last and treats every practice likewise.

Miles Maclagan to coach Laura Robson: As Simon Briggs of The Telegraph reports, “Laura Robson has a new coach in the familiar shape of Miles Maclagan, who worked with Andy Murray between 2007 and 2011.” Though Maclagan admits that he “needs to learn more about the women’s tour and Laura’s game” he knows “she has the mind for the big stadiums and for the big time which is exciting for a young player with a lot of firepower and the ability to take on the top players.”

Rafael Nadal’s Air of Invincibility No Longer Invincible

Rafeal Nadal defeats Daniel Brands in four sets at Roland Garros

By Yeshatyahu Ginsburg

Daniel Brands did not have the look of a man come to do the impossible or of someone who wanted to pull off one of the greatest upsets of all time. He did not chase down every single ball, did not get fired up often, and even gave up on a few points. And still, Brands had us thinking for a while that he could do the unthinkable.

The early part of the match went the way that most of Rafa’s matches against big servers seem to. There were lots of easy holds punctuated by a few fairly exciting moments. Everything seemed normal and no one really paid too much attention to the match. Those watching were only those interested in seeing Rafa run over an early-round opponent. No one expected the match to have any actual intrigue. It certainly wasn’t a matchup that enticed most Americans to wake up early and watch.

Then came 4-4 in the first. Rafa played a poor service game, including two double-faults, and Brands broke and held on to take the first set. All of a sudden, the world paid attention. Rafa had never lost the first set of a first-round Grand Slam match in his career. The only other players to ever take a first set from him at Roland Garros are named Soderling, Federer, and Mariano Puerta (in Rafa’s first Roland Garros final).

But this was more than just a bit of trivia. This wasn’t a blip on the radar screen. The world saw the potential for history to repeat itself. Fans on twitter, message boards, and even television commentators were suddenly drawing comparisons to Lukas Rosol and Robin Soderling. Even on court, you could see that Brands wasn’t shocked by his position of being a set up and Rafa wasn’t new to being down.

It definitely helped that Brands kept the match exciting by hitting ridiculous shots from both wings from start to finish. After all, it’s not easy to win points against Rafa without playing out of your mind tennis. And Brands was winning points. Even though he lost the last three sets, he never trailed by a double break in any set and was only broken twice in the match.

Brands played a very similar match to what Rosol did last Wimbledon. He served big every single time and just went for massive shots at every opportunity. Just about every forehand or backhand that even a bit of height on it was laced into a corner. Brands brought the game plan to beat Nadal and stuck to it. And maybe if this match had been on grass instead of clay, his result could have been a little different. It certainly was for Rosol last year.

That, really, is what we have to take out of this match. When Rosol won a set against Rafa, it was still business as usual. No one thought the unthinkable. It was just a player playing a great set. It would pass. There was no way Rosol would win. When he won the third set, everyone still thought Rafa had it in the bag. Rafa was invincible when not facing players of Djokovic caliber. When Rosol broke to start the fifth set, the world felt disbelief. And, eventually, as Rosol banged down big serve after big serve and forehand after forehand, the world backed Lukas. Fans embraced the upset possibility, finally, after hard-fought hours of nerves of steel.

Today, though, was different. This was on clay. This is a Rafa who has reached the final of every tournament since his comeback. And yet, it took one set from a big server for people to believe that Rafa could lose again. And the fact that Rafa took the next three sets without being broken once didn’t change that. That, perhaps, may be the biggest legacy of Lukas Rosol so far. Rafael Nadal losing is no longer unthinkable.

Dr. Nadal, the Villain of Monte Carlo

SkyFall

by James A. Crabtree

SkyFall

The documentations decree that a Bond baddie must often appear amicable at first, preferably have an accent, seek world revenge or domination and hang out in playgrounds of the rich.

Therefore dear old Rafa could well be the quintessential James Bond baddie. Just for a moment imagine Dr. Rafa stroking a white cat, sitting on a swivel chair overlooking a giant screen of the globe and the locations he has already dominated.

Suddenly Bond is brought into the room, shackled by two goons.

“Aaaa, Mr Bond, it is more than dream to meet you,” Dr. Rafa, would say. “Unfortunately you are too late, the cities for my supremacy has been set forth. I will rule the world again. And now, eh, you will die, no?”

Rafa is back from injury, showing that he does live twice; proving intuitive improvisation is the secret of his genius. No doubt he seeks vengeance for the heinous crimes of the rats that have leap frogged him in the rankings whilst he has been away. The world once, is not enough, and how dare the Scottish division of the MI5, Serbian Poliza and Swiss Secret Service for their aggression while he has been away. But now he is back and doing what he does best, serving up thunderballs in his favourite hunting ground of Monte Carlo.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0dFsAtAlEo

His success at the tournament that is the playground of the rich can only be compared with the mindboggling feats of other athletes. Heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano won 49 straight fights over four years, and Edwin Moses reigned as hurdles champion from 1977 to 1987 including 122 consecutive victories. Dating back to 2005 and including this year’s event Rafael Nadal has won 44 straight matches in Monte Carlo. This includes 8 straight titles.

The odds appear overwhelmingly in the Spaniards favour. When dealing with a Casino the house always wins, and in this case Rafa is the house. He has lost only once at the event, in 2004 to Guillermo Coria, when ranked 109 in the world. He had his revenge a year later against Coria in the final. Of the 44 matches he has won consecutively so far he has only lost a set six times. Of those matches the deciding set has never even been a true battle.

But what is it about Monte Carlo? It isn’t the closest to his home island of Majorca but it isn’t far off. In truth the glam doesn’t suit Mr Nadal as some others who call the tax haven home, such as an overabundance of top 50 players including some guy called Novak. But the crystal waters that the club overlooks surely calm the tenacious Spaniard.

A ninth title seems more than likely. Never bet against Dr Rafa, no? Besides, nobody even resembling Bond is in attendance.

Federer v Nadal – An Old Rivalry

Rafael Nadal

By James A. Crabtree

Before, it was Laver and Rosewall, McEnroe and Borg, Agassi and Sampras.

For the past year it’s been more about Djokovic and Murray.

One hundred years from now the beginning of this millennium will be remembered for clashes shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

The biggest headline in tennis once again took centre stage at Indian Wells in the men’s quarterfinal.

Federer will undoubtedly be remembered as the greatest player of all time. What will perhaps be forgotten is that Federer has been consistently owned by the man who chased him in the rankings for so long, Rafael Nadal. Nadal leads the Federer/Nadal conflicts with 19 wins to 10, and significantly by 8 wins to 2 in grand slams.

The most recent encounter between these two at Indian Wells had the build-up.

Federer has not won a title since August last year and in many ways is playing a match in a more timid style than that of which we are accustomed to seeing.

Nadal, as we all know, is back after a very lengthy absence and has a point to prove on hard courts and in a tournament in which he lost to Federer last year.

When Federer beat Nadal in the Indian Wells 2012 semi-final it was his first victory against the Spaniard on an outside hard court since Miami in 2005. The 2013 display went back to the script of old whilst Federer and his army of fans searched for answers with no more imaginative excuses than his age and injury.

Nadal’s display of aggression after a lengthy layoff from injury was significant although Federer’s lack of hostility on court, faltering serve and inconsistency was disheartening. Federer’s main hard court weapons, the flatter forehand and faster serve have all but eluded him so far this year.

These players know each other’s games inside and out and new strategy is almost impossible. Like a childhood sibling fight all tactics have been used before, only a heightened level of spite could prove a difference.

A spite that was missing for Federer resulting in the 28th encounter being an epic anticlimax.

Nadal’s biography ‘RAFA’ is as much about Federer as it is about Nadal, with detailed schemes of how the Spaniard would overcome the Swiss inundating the text. More than simply a great matchup Nadal treats the issue with obsession, a mountain he must climb. In contrast for Federer to play Nadal seems like an exhausting chore and whether he admits it or not, one he would rather avoid.

Indeed, in their most recent battle, Federer seemed more fatigued by an opponent that has always troubled him. For some reason Nadal always thinks of himself as the underdog. And these may have been the prevailing issues rather than any of the subplots leading up. Federer struggles against Nadal, always has, and perhaps, always will.

This rivalry has been going on a long bloody time, nine years to be exact. They have met 29 times, have played seven exhibitions of which Nadal has won five, will meet a few more times before they retire and then will undoubtedly play each other a further absurd amount of times more on the Champions tour.

If the current game plan remains the same, it would be hard to imagine a reversal of fortune for the greatest player of all time.

Rafael Nadal candid on his return to hard courts, “worst part” of his knee injury

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By Romi Cvitkovic

NEW YORK, NY (March 4, 2013) – In town to participate in the BNP Paribas Showdown as part of World Tennis Day, Rafael Nadal spoke candidly about his return to the hard court, the “worst part” about his rehabilitation and thoughts on his upcoming schedule. (Full presser gallery at bottom)

Arriving in a room full of media and distinguished guests, including 2013 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductees Cliff Drysdale and Charlie Pasarell, Nadal went for a more dressed-down look in a Nike hoodie and cap.

As Nadal began answering questions, I noticed a new demeanor and focus in him. Despite sometimes being overly-critical or even agitated at post-match press conferences, today Nadal smiled more freely and carried himself with an air of pure joy. He just came off of a title-winning week in Acapulco and truly feels “lucky” to be back on a tennis court and playing competitively again, and it translated in his attitude today.

Nadal admitted that the first half of his 2012 season before injury where he won four titles, including Roland Garros were “the best first half of a season in my career … it was difficult that I could not keep playing (because of) my knee.” Those tough days made his return even sweeter as he smiled that he’s “very excited to be back on the Tour. Last week, I started to feel much better in Acapulco. I started to feel free to run for plenty of balls and that’s fantastic for me.”

Nadal will next travel to Indian Wells, CA for the BNP Paribas Open and is eager to take on the competition there for the first time on the hard courts since his return.

“We will see how the knee answers better next week in Indian Wells when you play an official match. That will be a big test for me. Today I know that I can play on clay – that’s a very important thing to know, for me. I will try next week on hard. I think it’s a process. After a long time without playing tennis, it will be a process to adapt mainly to the competition. I hope I will have chances to play a normal calendar as I did in the past years.”

So, just how difficult was the time away from the court for Nadal?

“ When you are at home working every day at the gym with rehabilitation, with the doctors, and you try different treatments, and you see not the best result possible in a short period of time … it’s not easy to accept sometimes … I think was not an easy time, but at the same time, I had the chance to be with my family, friends. I tried to do different things that I usually cannot. It was tough. Every day you work, every day you wake up, every day thinking ‘How will the knee be today? Is the knee still bad?’ … I didn’t know when I would be back, that was the toughest part.”

Nadal also re-iterated that it’s difficult to plan his schedule much in advance these days any more, as he takes everything “day by day” gauging the pain and feel in his knee. With the BNP Paribas Open starting this coming week for Nadal, it will be a true test to see just what his knee can withstand.

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